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Grading on a Curve

American foreign policy experts criticize Afghan president’s comments, secretary of state’s response

John Kerry, Hamid Karzai / AP
• March 26, 2013 6:12 pm

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Secretary of State John Kerry was far too quick to accept Afghan President Hamid Karzai's explanation of recent controversial comments, foreign policy experts said today.

Karzai accused the United States of working with the Taliban in a televised speech on March 10 before he was scheduled to hold a joint press conference with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

"The explosions in Kabul and Khost yesterday showed that they are at the service of America and at the service of this phrase: 2014," said Karzai. "They are trying to frighten us into thinking that if the foreigners are not in Afghanistan, we would be facing these sorts of incidents."

The Afghan leader said his comments were "misunderstood," an explanation Kerry appeared to accept Monday.

"Saying it was successful for Kerry is like being proud of being valedictorian of a summer school class," said the American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Rubin.

"[Karzai has] been doing this for years, he’s gotten away with it," Rubin added.

"You can’t simply dismiss [Karzai’s comments] as misunderstood when they were broadcast on national TV." 

"This whole recent outburst is part of this reoccurrence that we see with President Karzai," said Luke Coffey, a Margaret Thatcher fellow at the Heritage Foundation.  "Karzai will make these sort of statements, knowing that it will ruffle some feathers and get some attention in the United States because it plays well to his home audience."

"[Karzai] saying it’s a mistranslation allows everyone to win," said Coffey. "Kerry comes in looking like the hero of the day because he smoothed things over."

Kerry was in Afghanistan to mark the U.S. military’s handover of a Bagram air base prison to Afghan forces.

Rubin said the United States should have taken a stronger stance against Karzai’s comments and spoken directly to the Afghan people.

"We can talk publicly about corruption. We can talk publicly about the increase in violence, and how government dysfunction going right to [Karzai’s] office was responsible," said Rubin. "If he’s slamming us, what I’m saying is we should be slamming him right back."

While Karzai said his comments about the United States and Taliban were misunderstood, he also rehashed previous claims that U.S. Special Forces were linked to mistreatment of Afghans in Wardak province, an accusation the U.S. military has said has no basis.

Rubin said Karzai’s opposition to Special Forces in Wardak is dangerous for Kabul since the Taliban has used the province as a gateway for launching attacks on the capital.

"When Karzai is saying that Special Forces has to be pulled out from Wardak, not only are the accusations libelous, but he is putting all the citizenry of Kabul in great danger," said Rubin. "And it’s up to the United States to make sure the Afghans know that the next time there’s a bombing in the center of Kabul, the blood is actually going to be on Karzai’s hands."